by Chris Bahn
Posted 4/12/2011 09:38 am
Updated 4 years ago
A documentary crew began filming Shiloh Christian football players last summer. The Saints, one of Arkansas’ most successful and polarizing programs, agreed to let the Frontline crew document the season as part of a piece on the growth of high school football.
Frontline cameras also made their way to Arkansas Children’s hospital to as two local players struggled with the effects of heat stroke. Lamar player Tyler Davenport died as a result of his injuries, while Pulaski Academy’s Will James survived and even played later in the year for the Bruins.
How do these storyline intersect? Tonight at 8 p.m. PBS airs “Football High,” a 60-minute documentary compiled in the state last football season.
Football observers and sports journalists alike agree that on average, high school players' size, speed and strength have increased dramatically over the past five to 10 years. At Euless Trinity in Texas, which has been ranked the #1 high school team in the country, 18 of the 89 varsity players weigh over 250 pounds. "The ramping up of pressure on high school kids ... and the increase of media attention on high school football, my God, in the last 10 years, it's become like a little NFL," says Gregg Easterbrook, a writer and columnist for ESPN. "If you look at it position by position, you can only compare it to NFL teams," says private trainer Kelvin Williams. "It's just crazy. They are huge."
FRONTLINE centers its investigation in Arkansas, where two players collapsed from heatstroke last year while practicing during one of the hottest summers on record. The players were placed in the same intensive care unit in Little Rock, both having suffered extensive damage to their internal organs. One boy survived, but the other boy died in the hospital three months after his collapse. "There should never, ever be a person [dying] from exertional heatstroke, because it's 100 percent preventable," says Dr. Doug Casa, a leading expert on heatstroke.
In the wake of the tragedy in Arkansas, FRONTLINE investigates the differences in the two boys' fates. Only one of the boys' teams had an athletic trainer on staff, which reflects the reality in most of Arkansas: Only 15 percent of the schools in the state have a certified medical professional at games and practices, slightly below the national average.
There is a separate, seven-minute web feature that explores Saints’ quarterback Kiehl Frazier that can be viewed below. Frazier was one of the nation’s most highly-recruited players and the feature is titled “Marketing Kiehl Frazier.”
If you’re uncomfortable with hearing a sports promoter refer to a high school student as a “product” and colleges as “the buyer” then you might skip watching it. However, the piece is eye-opening if you’re unfamiliar with how high-stakes the recruiting process has become.
Frazier says in the interview that he received a great deal of grief for choosing SEC rival Auburn over the local Arkansas Razorbacks. Someone told him on Facebook he should “die.”